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Auckland Nightlife Diaries

Five Aucklanders out at night. Part of our Nightlife Special, with thanks to Campari.

Auckland Nightlife Diaries

Dec 6, 2023 City Life

Auckland Central MP

Growing up, Dad used to sit my sister and me down in front of the television every other Friday or Saturday night to watch the sports with the oval ball — the All Blacks, the Blues, the Warriors. Turns out, a sense of duty wasn’t actually the best way to get your daughters engaged in sports. The best way to do that was to buy a season pass to Mt Smart, field side, next to the starting position of Dallin Watene-Zelezniak.

My friend Taylor and I did this at the start of the year. The games were locked into my calendar before pretty much anything else, which has meant that rain (and there’s been a lot of it) or shine, we’ve watched the bandwagon swell in real time as this year, it turns out, really is our year.

6pm —
The Merc

This particular Saturday the boys weren’t at Mt Smart but in Penrith, Australia, facing off against the Panthers who were defending their champion title. This meant Taylor and I were at ‘The Merc’ (the Mercury Bar and Gaming Lounge), next to the Mercury Theatre on, you guessed it, Mercury Lane. 

You could cut the anticipation buzzing from the fewer than two dozen of us crammed into the quasi-underground bar with a knife. Right next to us was a group from Hamilton on a cocktail tour of the big city. Matt had a fresh Wahs tattoo on his wrist, commemorating a decade of his seats in bay 29 (fortress side). Head Chef Mark brought out his latest delicacy from the kitchen — tonight, deep-fried cheerios and a bowl of tomato sauce. Jono Thevenard, co-founder of 2021 Metro Casual-City-Fringe-Restaurant of the Year, Pici , told this vegetarian that they were pretty all right.

By the time you’re reading this, you’ll know it wasn’t a great weekend for sports in this country (the next day, live from our campaign office on Karangahape Rd, we also watched Israel Adesanya gracefully hand over the middleweight belt to Sean Strickland), so I don’t need to dwell on the details.

8.45pm —

After a moment of gratitude for the universe, DWZ and Wayde Egan, my mates Lewis, Tom and I left a contemplative Taylor at the bar and walked and talked the 20 minutes to Ponsonby Rd’s Ockhee.

I’ve never met anyone who works so visibly hard and manages to find such an authentic joy in life as the one and only Paul Lee, who opened the iconic Korean restaurant with his wife, Lisa, a few months after the pandemic hit. It was pumping. 

Immobilised by the immensity of choice, with the blessing of Tom and Lew I handed over the reins to Paul, and zucchini chips, chun sa chae noodle salad, barbecue tofu gui, japchae noodles, seaweed rice balls and legendary fried chicken (with gloves) flowed. Just as we were about to leave, stuffed as, the effervescent Paul resurfaced with soju shots. There are so many reasons this spot is my key recommendation to anyone visiting Auckland — mind-blowing food aside, I believe experiencing Ockhee’s enthusiastic hospitality offers an insight into the culture, passion and life that our city should be famous for.

11pm —
Ponsonby Pool Hall

We rolled back down Ponsonby Rd, lamenting as always the closure of Golden Dawn (and marvelling at the enormity of time and events since the 2017 election, when our temporary campaign office was above the venerated venue), and arrived at Ponsonby Pool Hall.

Now, I love pool, but I’m not very good at it. The only decent shot I managed to land that night was when the table of very, very talented gentlemen next to us decided to pause their game to watch me. I don’t know what that was all about, but it made for the opposite of performance anxiety and a big old fluke. Tom won every game.

1am —

We wandered back to my central-city apartment and had a peppermint tea, talking earnestly and honestly about our hopes for this big little city. We’ve got all the right ingredients.




East Street Hall

I arrive at East Street Hall, where my friend Luther is hosting a party for his birthday. He’s curated an all-Polynesian DJ line-up. I grab two drinks from the bar — the staff here are always nice! I’m DJing in 30 minutes, so I go behind the DJ booth to say hello to my friend Mala who is currently DJing. He’s playing mash-ups and edits of R&B and hip-hop. The crowd is slowly building, mostly standing around catching up with friends — too sober and shy to make it to the dancefloor just yet.

12 midnight
East Street Hall

I’ve just finished my set. I started with 10 people on the dancefloor and now there’s a full room! I get the DJ booth ready for the next DJ, then leave to go grab a drink from the bar. The bar staff are getting absolutely hammered. The place is packed! Luckily, since I play here regularly the staff quickly serve me drinks <3 I head back to the DJ booth where I have space to dance. People are hype for the main event — Luther’s DJ set. People are dancing on the built-in seats and the dancefloor is packed. 


The wait for the toilet at East Street is too long! I decide to leave to check out Illusion, just around the corner on K Rd. My friends Mala and Mrs Fallback are DJing together. The club is empty, only about 10 people scattered around — but then, Fridays on K Rd in winter are pretty quiet, unless there’s a ticketed event or a thoughtfully curated DJ line-up. Most people don’t go to a club just because. People like to go somewhere that has good DJs and to be with their community. I stay for about 20 minutes before using the bathroom and heading back to East Street. As I leave, about 20 people pull in to Illusion — they look like friends of the DJ.

East Street Hall

The last DJ is due to play — Mrs Fallback. She’s based in Melbourne and it was only announced a few hours ago that she would be the special guest for Luther’s event. It was smart to have her play last, as it kept the crowd here. It’s also refreshing that she’s playing different genres to the other DJs. Her set is full of Afrobeats, dancehall and edits. The crowd is loving it — the dancefloor is shoulder to shoulder with people dancing and having a good time. The room is full of BIPOC <3.




Hospo guy and artist

8.30pm —

I get in from a barbecue in the ’burbs — my girlfriend is out of town. I’m planning to have a night of shrooms and painting, but end up doing only one of those things.

8.32pm —

I get a text from a friend of mine. She’s down from Mangawhai with a bunch of pals and wants to know if I can join them on K Rd.

8.41pm —
In my head 

I generally avoid the city at night. The last time I was on K Rd after 9pm, my GF and I had just seen Asteroid City and we wandered up there for a quick bite on our way home. A young man who had been fighting with a lamp post threw hot chips in our faces. The chips had no sauce, so this particular assault could have been worse. 

I couldn’t think of any sensible reason not to meet up with my friend. 

9.21pm —

I meet my pal and her pals at Verona. Apart from us and a heavily intoxicated bridal party, the place is empty. In my current state, I am not up for too much engagement — I’m at best I’m an observer.

Roving packs of addicts are on the street, there’s a punch-up 10m away and a half-naked woman is asking us for cigarettes. I’m in a movie… not a good movie, but a movie nonetheless. 

11.25pm —
Bamboo Tiger

After sucking all the joy we can from Verona, we move down to Bamboo Tiger. One of our team took a shine to a girl from the bridal party, so they are tagging along.

The bar is mostly empty. Upon entry, I see a wall of men who plainly appear to be sexual predators, waiting for a woman drunk enough to be approached with a Cosby cocktail. We don’t stay long.

11.45pm —
The street

One of the bridal party is yelling directions at everyone. I can’t tell if she’s drunk or if she’s from Perth. We cross the street, avoiding some gents having a physical communication breakdown on the tarmac.

12.55am —
Ink Bar

$10 cover charge. Cash only. Let’s be honest: hospo is tough. Is tax avoidance the only way to keep the doors open in a post-Covid environment? Moreover, drug dealers don’t accept debit cards. 

We are somewhere near the bar, on the edge of the d-floor, when the shrooms begin to take hold. I gingerly head outside, wanting to avoid the heavy, somewhat creepy vibe. 

One of the bridesmaids must have picked up on my uncomfortableness. Smelling weakness, she starts taking the piss out of me to get some laughs from her friends. I want to tell her she’s being a jerk, but I don’t. Confrontation… my cowardliness and shrooms do not allow that. But toxic behaviour isn’t just reserved for the men, it turns out.

I need to go home. But I don’t.

1.20am —

G.A.Y is a good vibe. A lot of half-naked men sweating and grinding on each other. There’s a drag show. The people-watching is good. These folks don’t give a damn and are having a good time. But we don’t stay — Neck of the Woods is next. I try to leave but get talked into staying for One. More. Drink.

1.40am —
Neck of the Woods

$30 cover charge — a big act, apparently. Downstairs there’s around 13 gormless people swaying to the music. I have a flashback to Camden Palace circa 99: the lights coming on at 6am over a sea of serotonin-starved hungry ghosts. 

Must. Go. Home.

2.05am —
The street

There are drunk people eating kebabs — reasonable. A man pulls a woman out of his car by her hair and is screaming at her in what sounds like Necronomicon. Less reasonable.

2.30am —

Feeling pretty good about being in bed, and grateful for another reminder about why I shouldn’t venture out in Auckland city after 10pm. Never again. Or not for the rest of the month.





9.45pm — The White Lady
My mates and I go out to Karangahape Rd, as we mostly always do on the weekends. We start the night off at The White Lady, a nice lil pre-gig ritual for us this winter, and get cheese and tomato toasties. YUMZ!

10pm —
Whammy Bar
Then we head down to Whammy Bar because a few of our friends are playing music at the Phys Ed 8 gig, run by the homies Phys Ed. The gig is in the main room and they have filled the venue with old-school CRT TVs, like EVERYWHERE! It’s sick. They’re all linked to a handheld VHS camera, too, that’s livestreaming the gig. In between the livestreaming, the TVs have visualisers playing. It’s a vibe, and we are very much stimulated on all lvlz.

I catch GALOLEAFI because they are the first DJ. They start off with ambient sounds, then go into house and then electro/dance music. It’s a really nice warm-up.

11pm —
Neck of the Woods

Soon after that, I head to Neck of the Woods because I’m opening up for UK artist Sicaria. On the way I run into some mates who are drinking at the outside tables of Verona — the smells are giving ciggies and Curionoir. A classic aroma, lol — one of many on the road.

When I finally get to the club I head straight to the bar and grab a drink. I always go for the red Pals because… I like them. Lol.

Feeling warmed up, I start my set with some club music, mainly producers from NYC, then move into more bass-heavy stuff. Knowing I am on before Sicaria, who plays a lot of bass-heavy dubstep and stuff, I finished on some grime and again global club.

I stick around to catch Sicaria for a bit. By the time we leave Neck of the Woods, it’s around 2am. We decide to go back to Whammy to try and catch the end of the PE8 gig.

2am —
The White Lady

Having intended to stay out and be true creatures of the night, my mates and I find that instead we’re being seduced by the smell of cheese toasties… Getting another one of these is probably not a great decision, since we’d wanted to stay out, but substance is key and I have a soft spot for cheese toasties.

We gracefully devour our late-night snacks and then graciously walk ourselves to the car and go home. A humble and successful night, and probably one of my favourites this winter <3.



Sam Low
Chef and cookbook author

7pm —
Ozone Coffee Roasters

Appropriately, I start the evening at the Metro Townhouse Ramen pop-up, to begin lining my stomach for the night to come. As a foodie based in Auckland, I am very aware that queer bars do not serve good food or top-shelf liquor, and that’s no tea and no shade.

8.30pm —
Freida Margolis

After ramen, however — and knowing that I’d be having more liquids later — I needed something to soak up the broth in my belly. At Freida’s, I had a thin-crust pizza with natural wine to match — including a gorgeous and elegant chilled red that made me very bubbly and giddy. It wasn’t that busy, and felt intimate. There were about six tables full, and it gave off a really organic, community feel. (I was aware that me and my friend were the only PoC in the building, though.) As we were leaving, we saw a couple of older gay people coming in (at least, I’m assuming the gay part). It set the tone for the rest of the night.

10pm —
In transit

We went home to freshen up and re-energise, then started making our way to Eagle. There were pockets of Karangahape Rd that felt really lively and busy, especially outside Cotto and Coco’s Cantina . Those areas were pumping, but in between things were dead. It was interesting to see all the little groups huddled together. In San Francisco, where I’ve just visited, you’d see people everywhere. It’d be great if K Rd could be a friendly space all over, rather than just in individual establishments.

11pm —
The Eagle

Eagle was packed. When we got there, I wanted to make my way to the bar, but I remember being about 5m away, turning around and saying, “I don’t think we’ll make it.” It was body-to-body and high risk. I was wearing white, and, you know, gays with their wrists, and the drinks they’re holding being filled to the brim… It was scary. Eagle has this jukebox in the back determined by the customers, and how full the front of the bar is depends on how hype the song is down the back. That’s probably how we managed to get served — two Jäger bombs to start the night. We danced a little and tried to put either ‘Dance in the Dark’ by Lady Gaga or ‘Dancing on My Own’ by Robyn on the jukebox, but the card was full. At the back, I got recognised by a young chef who was staring at me very intensely, pupils enlarged. “I love what you do,” he said; but also: “I’m straight, no homo.” He unfortunately spilled some beer on me while talking so passionately, but I forgave him.


G.A.Y at 11.30 was dead. There were only about six people there.

11.45pm —
Family Bar

At Family it was great to see most of the bartenders were female and PoC. The courtyard bar out back had a really nice reggaeton, chill vibe to it. I wasn’t feeling it, so I went downstairs to see what was happening and that didn’t feel very good either. It felt like an unintentional gay sauna — smelled like body odour and was very sticky. While dancing in the balcony area, I was hyping up people at the bottom, trying to get them to dance and fist-pumping to EDM mixes of female queer icons. Twice in the next hour, I helped point out to the security guard people who were clearly not fit to be in the establishment — one was hanging on to the rails of the cages up top, clearly out of his mind, and the other was on the dance floor looking like he was going to start a fight. So I felt like I did a good job.

12.30am —
The end

We were promised a drag show at midnight, but the alcohol was wearing off, and my friend said that he might head off. I decided I had three choices. One was to walk my friend home so he could get his car; second, to log on to Grindr; and three: well, Centurion is right around the corner. 

Let’s just say I had a really good evening, and we’ll leave it at that.

This story was part of the Metro Nightlife Special,
supported by Campari
Published in Metro N°440.
Available here.


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